“Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter Sunday addressed the elephant in the room at CNN – the network’s “conundrum” of how it’s handling the “optics problem” with primetime host Chris Cuomo -– saying that although there is “no perfect solution … viewers wanted to see [Cuomo] on TV.”
Chris Cuomo was reported to have advised his brother, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, earlier this year on strategy when the governor was first accused of sexual harassment, accusations that were confirmed this week in an independent investigation reported by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
CNN has allowed the anchor to continue broadcasting his primetime show as long as he remains silent on-air about his “family drama,” as Stelter put it, and does not participate in any more strategy sessions with the governor’s aides.
“So if you’re wondering why Chris has remained silent about the scandal, well that is why,” Stelter explained.
But earlier this week, the anchor said he will begin a pre-planned, weeklong vacation at his home in Long Island with family starting on Monday.
Stelter has reported on the media angle of this Cuomo story, and that has including talking with staffers at CNN about their colleague. His finding: this is a “one-of-a-kind situation — TV star in prime time, governor’s brother in all times,” Stelter said.
“What I found is a more complicated story than you might think. This has been a conundrum for CNN that has no perfect answer, no perfect solution. Some think CNN made it worse by letting Chris interview his brother when COVID-19 was ravaging New York,” Stelter said, adding that Cuomo is just “a brother who just wants to do his job, just wants to anchor his show. But can he? That’s the key question.”
This past week, “Cuomo Prime Time” aired as usual, with Chris conducting interviews through “what has to be one of the hardest periods of his adult life,” Stelter said.
As Stelter sees it, the ultimate decision comes down to Chris Cuomo’s continued ability to draw ratings. “Viewers wanted to see him on TV, and let’s be honest, this is TV, so that’s not a totally irrelevant factor.”
But there are still people calling for CNN to suspend or fire Cuomo, to which Stelter responds: “Telling a well-off host to hang out by the pool for a couple of weeks is not a real punishment.”
“Actual punishment,” he said, is “scolding a host in public,” which CNN did in May when it released a statement saying, “It was inappropriate to engage in conversations that included members of the Governor’s staff, which Chris acknowledges. He will not participate in such conversations going forward.”
Stelter acknowledged CNN’s “awkward” optics problem. “The issue is whether Chris can continue to do his job, continue to be trusted by the audience. Clearly the leaders at CNN think so. But ultimately that’s up to you. That’s up to the people who tune in, or don’t, every night. Trust in this business is earned every day, inch by inch, minute by minute, show by show.”